Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Iraq's president to donate to UNHCR as winter hits refugees

UNHCR says thousands of families are in desperate need of assistance

 Iraqi displaced children stand at a flooded refugees camp following heavy rainfall in Nimrud town, northeast of Mosul city, northern Iraq, 08 December 2018. EPA
 Iraqi displaced children stand at a flooded refugees camp following heavy rainfall in Nimrud town, northeast of Mosul city, northern Iraq, 08 December 2018. EPA

Iraqi President Barham Salih said he would donate money to the UN Refugee Agency, which is working to assist vulnerable refugees and displaced persons survive harsh winter conditions in countries like Iraq and Syria.

His announcement came after Iraqi public figures launched a humanitarian initiative this week to gather funds in support of UNHCR's "winterization" project, which aims to provide funds and assistance to refugees and displaced persons.

The agency estimates that 3.4 million vulnerable people are in need of assistance.

“I have accepted the challenge presented by Iraqi comedian Ahmed Al Basheer to donate money to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee,” Mr Salih said in a video

Mr Salih did not say how much he will donate or when he will make the payment.

A UNHCR spokesperson told The National that the agency welcomes the president’s pledge, especially since it is in need of approximately 168 million dollars (617 million AED) to ensure “that lifesaving assistance is in place as freezing temperatures grip the region."

“We look positively into this engagement, our aim is to always be in harmony with government officials in the Middle East and we welcome their involvement in our campaigns,” the spokesperson said.

More than 14 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria and Iraq, with nearly 5.9 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

In Iraq, UNHCR aims to assist some 656,100 internally displaced peoples (IDPs) and 228,000 Syrian refugees as a part is its winterization assistance.

The pledge by the Iraqi president comes as UNHCR presses ahead with the implementation of its so-called “winterization strategy” which focuses on the provision of cash assistance for vulnerable families, the delivery of core relief items specific to winter and improving shelter conditions for vulnerable populations.

"The annual plan, which is usually underfunded due to budgetary restrictions, targets the most vulnerable displaced and refugees… including those who live in informal settlements and urban areas, in addition to refugee camps," the spokesperson said.

A UNHCR report detailing this winterization strategy said that a “large part of the assistance will be cash-based, allowing families to decide for themselves how to spend the money on important priorities during the difficult winter months.”

A one-off cash payment of USD 200 (735 AED) per family will be provided to IDPs living in camps and in urban areas. For Syrian refugees in Iraq, USD 400 (1469 AED) per family will be provided to both those in camps and out of camps.

Winterization assistance also includes the distribution of items such as heaters, high thermal blankets, and plastic sheeting as well as, in camps, distribution of insulation kits for tents.

In Syria, UNHCR aims to provide winter assistance to 1.35 million Syrian internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and host communities (270,000 families) through the distribution of core relief items.

“Assistance will be prioritized for newly displaced vulnerable families (including people displaced multiple times), people living in hard-to-reach areas and in sub-standard shelters,” according to the report.

This includes several locations in Daraa, Rural Damascus, Hama, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa and Idlib governorates, depending on access for delivery of aid and assistance.

Yet, the agency says that the long term adequate solution for the refugees "is for them to voluntarily opt to return to their countries in dignity and peace whenever conditions on the ground are in favour of returns."

The other solution would be that displaced are given the opportunity to fully integrate into the host country and establish a proper decent livelihood and existence mechanisms, the spokesperson said.

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Updated: January 22, 2019 06:59 PM

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